Soul Review-The Perfect Heartwarming Film to End 2020 On
Jaimie Foxx as Joe Gardner
Where many animated studios make cinema centered for kids, Pixar has built its reputation on making films that happen to be kid friendly. Giving visualization to abstract ideas and post modern premises, Soul is the latest entry that feels right at home alongside its predecessor, Coco, another film that explored the meaning of life after death filtered through the passions of music. Where Coco based its exploration through Mexican culture, Soul is much more abstract in its approach, not basing its premise on any pre-existing culture or religion. Directed by Pixar veteran Pete Docter (Up, Inside Out, Monsters Inc.), Soul brings subjects of determinism and the meaning of life to the table, resulting in a heartwarming and gentle ride that resonates with the viewer, but without the stain power it needs to be among the Pixar greats.
The story follows Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx), a middle aged jazz musician whose passions for the profession keep him from holding down a steady job, much to the chagrin of his mother. Upon receiving the gig of playing in a band alongside a famous jazz performer, Joe seemingly dies in an accident and his soul is taken up to the Great Beyond, where souls go after death. Refusing to accept his fate, Joe escapes into the Great Before, where souls dwell before birth. There he meets 22 (voiced by Tina Fey), a troubling soul who has little reason to begin their life on Earth. Through many hijinks and misadventures, the two learn much from each other on the meaning of life, and whether their actions or surroundings are what define a human being.
Visually, Soul might have the simplest and most straightforward style in the Pixar catalogue. The Great Beyond/Before scenes have a minimalist approach with its soft baby colors and round shapes, but even these scenes have a surprising amount of restraint in its presentation, not allowing itself to fall into the usual hijinks and high energy octane a film like Inside Out partook in. The Earth scenes are entirely grounded and its mainly black cast and Manhattan setting are simply drawn, allowing the emotions of the characters and their performances to carry the scenes rather than the visuals. It’s a real shame we weren’t able to view them on the big screen.
22 (Fey, left) and Joe (Foxx, right)
Much of the strengths of the film fall on the performances and chemistry of Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey. The two bring a high enthusiasm to the characters and the comedic timing lends to many laugh out loud moments. The dynamic between the two, thankfully, doesn’t qualify under the “old man is too grumpy for this adventure but inevitably finds his inner youth through the hijinks of this young kid who accidentally finds a mentor role in him” trope. There are a handful of other characters (there’s a running gag about several soul counselors named Jerry) that all serve their parts well, especially Terry, an official soul accountant who spends the majority of the film chasing Joe. Terry (voiced by Rachel House), is probably the most mellow antagonist in Pixar history. As time rolls on since viewing the film, The chemistry between 22 and Joe become more of a standout, even more so than the unique premise. When the scene qualifies for a comedic moment, the two lend themselves flawlessly. When a scene needs a moment to breathe and let the emotions play out, Foxx and Fey show they are more than up to the task.
If there’s anything holding it back from becoming a masterpiece, it’s the third act. Though it is executed well, much of the climax falls for the usual tropes a film that centers on a comedy duo often portrays. It’s a tad rushed and resolves itself in a way that the viewer might see coming. Though predictability isn’t generally a sin, it does stick out more in a movie like Soul that made sure every minute and scene is wholly original and unique from most animated flicks. Despite this, the emotion of the scene lands and the visuals help elevate it to a level that’ll certainly leave many of the viewers empathizing with it.
Though Soul is a kids film, what it has to say will resonate more with an adult audience, as the case often is with Pixar. It isn’t nearly as memorable as Inside Out, Up, Coco, or much of the early works, but the movie will tug on the heartstrings and give a good laugh. Perhaps it’s the perfect film to have come out in a pandemic world with its themes of enjoying the moment and finding happiness in the little details of life. It’s the type of feel good viewing experience that can bring a cathartic end to 2020, and its accessible format on Disney+ makes it all the more easy to have one.
Left to right, Joe Gardner (Foxx) and Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett)